Prétear (Volume 3) Review
After the cliffhanger ending that closed the previous volume of Prétear, I was already pretty geared up for the action on this third disc. What I didn't anticipate was that there would be two more key plot developments (OK, 'twists', if you will) immediately to follow the first shocker, the net result of which is to completely shift the balance of power and make Himeno's situation all the more dire as we move towards the conclusory volume of the series. It's cracking stuff.
The fact is, it is more or less impossible to review this DVD properly without giving away major spoilers for the show, a situation with which I've rarely been faced. The best I can do is to ask anyone who is keen to see these episodes untainted by any prior knowledge to skip down to the technical sections of this write-up and not read any more of the text contained under 'The Show' or 'Episode Guide'. For those who feel that their enjoyment of the series won't be tainted by learning a few important facts in advance, by all means carry on. (I'll endeavour to restrict the most blatant spoilers to the 'Episode Guide' section.)
You will recall that, in her last confrontation with the Princess of Disaster, Himeno found to her dismay that she could no longer prét. (That she made this discovery as she finally relented and attempted to prét with Hayate for the first time in ages made it something of an emotional double-whammy for her, of course.) Whilst her inability to prét has no immediate solution, the two key revelations on which this trio of episodes actually hinge revolve around Sasame's love of Fenrir and the latter's subversion of Himeno's step-sister, Mawata.
Yes, you read that right... as it turns out, during the reign of the previous Prétear there was a love triangle in effect, but only one person knew about it. Whilst Takako was pining (in vain) after Hayate, the Knight who secretly carried a torch for her was in fact Sasame. That's all fine and well (these things happen, after all), but I'm more than a little disappointed in him for continuing to love Takako once she turned to darkness and became Fenrir. And even more disappointed at the lengths to which he still seems willing to go for this doomed love of his.
Setting that whole plot thread aside for one moment, kudos to Fenrir for completely outmanoeuvring the Knights of Leafe in pretty much every way possible, and for having the foresight to infiltrate the Awayuki household in such a way as to grant her unrestricted access to everyone her rival Himeno cares about. I mean, you really have to hand it to the girl... she wants revenge and she's proven herself far more clever than any of her opponents. But then again, she is evil. So I guess that's bad.
Seriously, though, this volume is another strong instalment of Prétear. The events of these three episodes are every bit as critical as the revelations presented on volume 2, only more immediate in their threat value. (Which is a good thing, as the writers have to tie everything up in the next, and final, DVD.) My only personal disappointment comes from seeing just how ineffectual the Knights of Leafe really are at doing their job... something which I kind of handwaved before now, but which is becoming almost ludicrously obvious the further we progress into the series. The reason this is a problem for the show is because it makes the viewer feel less sympathy towards the Knights (and by extension, towards Himeno). Whilst I may not precisely be rooting for Fenrir, the character I have the most empathy for at the end of this volume is actually Mawata, not Himeno. Which naturally means that I'm very keen to see how 'the good guys' are going to save the younger step-sister (and, erm, the rest of the world as well, of course).
Episode Guide (and Most Definitely Spoilers!)
8: 'Moment of Awakening'
This is an 'eye of the storm' sort of episode, with Himeno isolating herself somewhat from the Knights of Leafe in the wake of her non-préting disaster, trying to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of two emotional disasters: 1, just as she and Hayate had begun to reach an understanding, along comes this news about him having rejected the affections of the previous Prétear, who just happens to also be her arch-nemesis; and 2, after having decided to take up the mantle of Prétear properly again and stop wallowing in her own misgivings, she has abruptly lost the ability to prét and seems useless to everyone around her just when she is needed most.
Fortunately for her, someone close to her is facing similar feelings and also needs someone to talk to: Mawata. Both more or less wandering to clear their heads, when the two girls cross paths by chance, they decide to go to the beach and have a quiet day together. Again, it's good to see Himeno and Mawata connecting and opening up a bit to each other, and we feel keenly the hopelessness of the latter's crush on Sasame and her fears that she'll never have as strong an emotional bond with anyone again as she had with her deceased father. But just as she begins to feel a little better in Himeno's company, along comes Hayate to interrupt their dialogue... and, watching them from a distance, Mawata sees him embrace Himeno and closes herself off emotionally once more.
9: 'Unreaching Melody'
Whilst this episode is peppered with silly antics (as are, in fact, all of the ones involving Himeno's family), the central story is much more serious. Basically, everyone at home grows convinced that there is some kind of dark presence haunting the Awayuki estate, and Himeno's father leaps to the dubious conclusion that it is a ghost and that they can simply hunt it down and corner it themselves. (Yes, and then what?) The bad news for the Knights of Leafe is that it's not a poltergeist but the Princess of Disaster come a-calling.
Himeno sets the younger three Knights on the task of keeping her family occupied chasing phantoms whilst she and the older four members of the team can track down Fenrir and stop her. (Again, not sure how.) However, Fenrir is a lot closer than any of them had imagined... and her target isn't Himeno. As everyone runs in circles about the manor, the family maid pays a visit to Mawata, who has refused to come out of her room for several days now... and words which at first seem merely intended to reassure the younger step-sister gradually assume more sinister connotations, preying more and more upon the latter's insecurity and despair, and turning her towards a path of anger and darkness.
But by the time Himeno & Co. unmask Fenrir's secret identity, it may be too late for Mawata. Not only is Himeno still unable to prét, but as she confronts the Princess of Disaster, one of her own Knights stages a defection to the other side, with Sasame confessing his undying love for her and offering to betray his cause if it means he can be with her instead.
10: 'The Furthest Ends of One's Emotions'
It comes as little surprise that Fenrir is willing to take Sasame up on his offer. Even though Takako never had eyes for anyone but Hayate and it's unlikely that there's any room in Fenrir's heart for love of anyone nowadays, Sasame signs up as a Knight of Darkness and leaves the rest of the group standing around, shellshocked. Deciding that she can no longer run the risk to her family, Himeno chooses to move out of the Awayuki residence and into a nice cozy home built by the Knights for her.
But before you can even form the words 'How could things possibly get any worse?', Fenrir shows up in Leafenia (something which she shouldn't have been able to do), the door more or less held wide open for her by Sasame. She gleefully blasts Himeno's home into rubble before setting to work on Leafenia as a whole. And whilst Himeno does finally find it within her to prét again, is it a case of 'too little, too late'?
The video and audio quality of this release is on par with the two volumes of Prétear that have gone before, so there's not a whole lot to add to my earlier comments (which see). The short form is, this is a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, modern animé production with a solid DVD encode, bilingual audio in Dolby 5.1 (English) and Dolby 2.0 (Japanese), and competent voice acting in either language. However, neither the picture nor the sound particularly shines: the former because of generally uninspiring animation, overuse of pastel backgrounds, and lack of attention to detail; and the latter due to a relatively flat soundstage which doesn't explore its full potential. As such, this disc receives above-average, but non-stellar, ratings in both categories.
I'm still a big fan of the clean, beautiful menus on these DVDs. Because there aren't all that many options, finding your way around is really straightforward and quick, and the loop of theme music chosen to play under the main menu really puts you in the mood for watching the show.
The extras are similar to last time, but in addition to the clean opening animation, clean closing animation, production sketches, and 'behind the animé' interviews, there is another nice special feature: the inclusion of three of the original Japanese TV spots (two 15-second ones and a 30-second one) used to promote the show when it was first broadcast. I always enjoy this sort of thing, so that was a definite bonus. I wish I could say that the 'behind the animé' segments were getting more interesting, but I'm afraid they're still dull as dirt. However, if Hilary Haag, Sasha Paysinger, Monica Rial, or Paul Sidello is one of your fave voice actors, then perhaps there's something here for you... just be advised that they don't spend a lot of time talking about Prétear or even their roles in it.
The packaging carries on with the snow-white Amaray cases but, in recognition that the themes covered in this trio of episodes are a bit darker than what went before, the case now carries a '12' rating instead of the 'PG' one seen on the previous two instalments. What's really eye-catching, however, is the cover art for this third volume: we have Himeno in her 'Prétear of Wind' costume (which looks unfortunately a bit like she picked it up after a superhero discarded it as being too gaudy) superimposed upon a figure hanging upside-down next to her, entwined in thorny vines. I'm kind of relieved that the image of the DVD cover included in the upper left corner of this review isn't any bigger, because if you look closely at the face of the person suspended next to Himeno, it's a spoiler for a major revelation in the second episode of this disc!
Prétear continues to be a highly-enjoyable watch for me, and one I certainly look forward to reviewing each time. I'm eager to see how things will be resolved in the final instalment, because at the moment it seems that Fenrir holds all the cards... but nothing we've been presented with thus far leads me to believe that the writers intend for this show to end on a depressing note, so I'm sure it will all sort itself out somehow. If you like mahou shoujo animé, I can't think of any reason not to suggest you have give Prétear a try, as this set of DVDs doesn't disappoint.